CONCEPTS AND CATEGORIES by Henry Hardy

CONCEPTS AND CATEGORIES

Philosophical Essays
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KIRKUS REVIEW

For those whose acquaintance with Oxford's Isaiah Berlin rests primarily on Russian Thinkers (1978), this, the second of four volumes of his essays, may be a surprise. Best known as a historian of ideas, Berlin began his career as a philosopher, and, as he himself notes in a preface, these philosophical essays bear the stamp of the debates within British philosophy current 30 years ago. In essays entitled "Verification" (1939), "Empirical Propositions and Hypothetical Statements" (1950), and "Logical Translation" (1950), Berlin took his stand against empiricism, and particularly against the effort to render philosophical statements "scientific." These are heavy going, written in the curiously simple language of British philosophy--"what exists but is not here exists and is not here in exactly the same sense of 'exists' as what is--does exist--here"--with its talk of tables, chairs, and Napoleon's three-cornered hat. But even if these essays are relics, they are also documents in Berlin's intellectual development, and on a closer look they do connect with his more famous work. Other essays here provide a bridge, In "The Purpose of Philosophy" (1962), "The Concept of Scientific History" (1960), "Does Political Theory Still Exist?" (1961), and "'From Hope and Fear Set Free'" (1964) he stresses the importance of the historical element--manifested in language and invisible to empiricism--in the way people see themselves and the world. The task of the humanist intellect is not to make scientific statements, but to reveal the pluralism of world views while stripping away the accumulated veneers of myth and dogma. We therefore see Berlin, an essayist born, traveling from empiricism to Tolstoy.
Pub Date: March 1st, 1979
ISBN: 0691002347
Page count: 202pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1979




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